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From an empty plot in the Enos Ranch development, administrators and members of the Santa Maria-Bonita School District board of education joined construction officials Thursday to break ground on the city's newest elementary school.

"It's not every day that a school district has the opportunity to conduct a groundbreaking for a new school, but we are here," Superintendent Luke Ontiveros told the crowd before the first scoops of wet earth were tossed. The ceremony marked the start of the roughly 17-month-long process culminating in a projected August 2020 completion. 

Officials previously identified an undeveloped parcel in the northern section of the commercial development as the site for the new school. Though discussions about placing a school in the area can be traced as far back as 1999, plans were seriously explored after voters approved Measure T — a $45 million bond measure — in 2014.

The district's board of education last month awarded the construction contract for the new school to AMG & Associates, the Santa Clarita-based contractor that built Jimenez Elementary School, which opened in 2015.

"It's a long process," said Phil Alvarado, who attended school in the district and later served as its superintendent when Measure T was passed. He said Thursday's groundbreaking was made possible by the thousands of local voters who came out in support of the bond measure, and by city and district officials who were quick to recognize the ongoing challenge of rising enrollment.

"When we first started discussing this piece of dirt, the district, state and nation were just coming out of a recession," Alvarado added. "The last thing people thought about was passing a bond — everyone's finances were so tight. But we withstood that ... pressed the green button and moved on forward."

Santa Maria-Bonita is home to the 11 largest (in terms of student enrollment) elementary schools in Santa Barbara County, according to Ontiveros. The two-story, 60,000-square-foot campus will include 26 classrooms and can accommodate up to 900 students in transitional kindergarten through sixth grade.

In addition to a large multipurpose room and enclosed food service area, the new school will feature an outdoor learning space and a shared learning commons. Space for the district's Therapeutic Learning Program is also included at the site.

"The outside certainly might look a little different than a lot of your elementary schools," said Brett Hobza, senior principal of DLR Group, the district's design firm, "but it's what is on the inside that is most important."

Tasked by Ontiveros to reflect the ways that students learn in a 21st-century environment, Hobza said movable glass walls and adaptable furniture give teachers "much more flexibility in the way [they] teach students and [gives] them a lot more opportunities [to shape] how they learn." Community and shared-use facilities like softball and soccer fields are also included in the site plan.

Factoring in money put toward the purchase of the land, architectural designs, fees and construction costs, the price for the project is expected to exceed $48 million. An additional $2.5 million will be put toward fixtures and instructional material. Approximately $30 million of the total cost will be financed through Measure T; local developer fees and state matching funds will account for the remaining cost.

A formal naming process will take place as the school is being built. Once complete, it will be the district's 17th elementary school and 21st overall.

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Tents set up for a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday for the Santa Maria-Bonita School District's new elementary school show the location in the Enos Ranch development. The school will be built on the west side of Shepard Drive.

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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Education Reporter

Mathew Burciaga is a Santa Maria Times reporter who covers education, agriculture and public safety. Prior to joining the Times, Mathew ran a 114-year-old community newspaper in Wyoming. He owns more than 40 pairs of crazy socks from across the globe.